Sleeping through the night is a skill that all parents want their babies to learn as quickly as possible ! With multiples I think it is a matter of survival in the first few weeks, especially if your twins or triplets were premature. One piece of advice I have for you right now is do not listen to other parents who are extolling the virtues of their sleeping offspring and think ‘my babies wont sleep through the night’ in your head. All babies are different, even within a twin or triplet group, they will all develop at different rates. So please, to be kind to yourself, forget any preconceived thoughts or decisions you might have about how soon your babies are going to sleep through the night.
The first fact to consider is that sleeping through the night is technically classed as sleeping a minimum of 5 hours ! Oh boy ! Thats not sleeping through the night as far as I am concerned ! But I have triplets, I have survived it, we are all still alive and well so leave your preconceived ideas here……. ! You will be a lot less anxious and disappointed with yourself if you think rationally about sleep and what you can achieve and what you can’t right now. My triplets were premature, they had lots of ups and downs in the first weeks of life, but they were all sleeping from around 11pm to 6am…ish by the time they were 6 months old, that was a pretty normal time for a single baby to miss that 2am feed, so really not too bad. It is a necessary phase but it is short-lived. I will help you understand your babies sleep patterns, what to expect, how to cope and practical tried and tested plans that will work and mistakes to avoid. I hope that it will help you get through these few weeks of tiredness.. you will look back…..eventually with fondness at this time in your babies lives, albeit I don’t think you ever forget how tired that time felt, I certainly haven’t ! But your babies sleeping through the night will be a fact, not a dream !
Understanding Sleep Basics
When people talk about their baby sleeping and a newborn baby will sleep 16-17 hours a day, but this is in periods of not more than 2-3 hours at a time. That is a very punishing schedule. This sleep pattern is day and night, for the first few weeks. Newborns do not have the ability to recognise day from night so the schedule is rigorous and punishing for you as the parent. Newborns spend more time in REM sleep which is thought to be needed for development of the brain. It is a necessary phase of their development and short lived but feels a lifetime when you are sleep deprived. The only way to cope with this is to try and wake and sleep along with them, not as easy as it sounds. I certainly found this time tremendously challenging. As you progress in the newborn phase, start teaching the difference between day and night.
Daytime – Play and interact with your babies, keep the room bright and airy. Don’t reduce the daytime noises and wake your babies if they sleep through the daytime feeds. This was my schedule for my triplets. I simply could not function unless they were all fed around the same time and woken if they went over three hours through the day. I made sure that they got the full quota of feeds in during the day.
Nighttime – Don’t interact, or play at night. Keep the light and noises low, don’t talk much. As the weeks go on, your babies will start learning which is daytime and night. During the night I didn’t wake them up for their feeds, when the first one woke, they were all were woken. Its tough to wake up a quiet, sleeping baby, but if I didn’t get enough sleep, I could not care for them effectively.
6 Weeks to 3 Months
At 6-8 weeks, babies sleeping patterns change slightly in that they sleep for shorter periods during the day and start to sleep longer at night, but still waking for night time feeds. The periods of REM sleep are shorter now and your babies will go into deeper sleeps. Remember though, your babies still need naps every 2 hours so don’t over tire as the knock on effect of this is early waking in the morning or sleeping badly and frequent waking through the night.
Trying to establish a good sleep pattern right from the start will get your babies into good habits as they get older which will in turn lead to happy babies and toddlers both during the day because theyre well rested but also during the night too.
Even at 3 months old, your babies need 15 hours a day – nap times during the day and nighttime. They will still need a night feed, but will sleep for longer periods during the night, getting up to around 4 hours at a time.
By 4 months, your twins or triplets will be getting into a regular sleep/wake routine. You may also find that they will drop a night feed, but as I found, they didnt all do this at the same time. So for a few weeks I was still getting up to at least one, sometimes not the same one which was hugely frustrating. But there was a slight encouragement that if one could do it, they all could !
From around four months, babies can potentially start to drop the night feed, but at four months it is too soon to start following a rigid sleep programme. If you have been following a good bedtime routine over the succeeding weeks you may decide your babies are ready for a sleep programme. As before, one or other may be ready to do this but not all at the same time, developmentally they are individuals. I waited until all three of my triplets were ready to start a sleep programme.
From 4-6 months, babies sleep 8-12 hours, at which point you will start feeling a whole lot better. However, if your babies don’t do that, you are not alone. Many will still wake at night at least once at this age but by 6 months that night feed needs to be stopped. It may be that starting mixed feeding may help your babies sleep more at night. Bear in mind though if you’re breast feeding, your babies may take up to 9 months to drop that night feed.
Don’t forget that your babies may regress…. a temporary setback which can be frustrating and puzzling, crying for no reason at night. It may be of course that theyre not well, or perhaps are at a milestone in their development and this disrupts their sleep. Teething is not usually a reason, more that the baby has not learned to fall asleep by themselves.
Ultimately sleeping through the night is not based on your babies weights, but more on the development of the nervous system and the ability to learn to fall back to sleep without help.
At 6-9 months, your babies will have a nap twice a day, sleeping around 14 hours a day – night time and naps. This is where your life starts again, generally by this stage, theyre sleeping around 8 hours a night without needing a feed. There will be the few that will still be waking for a feed but theyre not necessarily hungry, they simply can’t put themselves back to sleep and this is where you need to work a little and getting them to self soothe.
Sleeping up to 14 hours a day with two naps, thats a whole 9-10 hours a night, settling themselves back to sleep through the night ! Wow! you have made it through the hardest time, although you are now moving into twin or triplet toddlerhood so be prepared ! They will be crawling, cruising, walking ! They will refine and expand their skills. You may find occasional disrupted nights due to being too excited to fall asleep again. This is the point that a bedtime story can be introduced – not too long though !
Signs of Tiredness In Babies
From the moment your babies arrive, you will be watching for their every need. You will get to know them and their little quirks and characters. Something that will really help is to identify their moods, particularly when theyre looking tired. Each baby may have a different way of telling you, but the general signs to look for are rubbing eyes, pulling ears, being fractious and fussy. You will get used to their patterns and their signs of sleepiness.
Raising a Good Sleeper
When my triplets were small, I envied those parents who seemed to carry on their lives with a baby slotting in. We would go out for dinner parties and the table decoration would be their 6 month old baby in a bouncy chair joining in the party. I simply could not do that. My triplets needed to be in a routine, for us to have any semblance of a life. So we had a routine. I was probably more rigid than I needed to be but the key to raising a good sleeper is a well rested baby, one that has naps through the day, avoiding overtired babies, a regular routine. I won in the end, my triplets were way better behaved than her single child ! Hahahah !
Establishing Bedtime Routine
Its never too soon to get a bedtime routine going. In the initial stages, you are really just going through the motions on a bedtime routine because sadly they’ll be awake again in less than three hours but over the weeks it will help your babies adjust to the day/night routine. I also felt that it helped me to cope with the tiredness, to have the routine of the day mapped out. I could drift through the routine myself. Ultimately though it all payed off over the succeeding months, they slowly slipped into the bedtime routine, giving us grateful peace and quiet through the evening and night.
So I started out from the day my triplets came home from hospital.
You need to start the bedtime routine early enough so that your babies are not screaming their heads off with hunger while you’re bathing them.
6pm – Upstairs to the nursery. My changing station had a bath underneath, so fill the bath and each one bathed.
7pm – Dressed in either baby grow or nightdress – I found the nightdress easier when they were really tiny, it was easier to change nappies in the night rather than having to get little legs out of a baby grow. Swaddled loosely in a baby blanket, a warm baby bottle.
7.45pm – Lullaby music switched on quietly and babies tucked up in their cribs, sleepy but still awake. The music was a theme that I used constantly, it was an integral factor in their bedtime routine. Light and soothing, but a constant factor that over time was a signal to them that it was time to sleep. The other choice of sound here is to use white noise, such as the sound track offered by Instant Baby Sleep which comes with an instruction pdf and can all be downloaded immediately by clicking on the link. All instructions about use are included, there are many great reviews about this, I didnt try this as I didn’t know about it with mine, so please if you do give it a try, please leave comments!
This was the routine that I followed with my triplets right the way through their babyhood and toddlerhood and it only changed when they reach age 5-6 years.
It is imperative that, to teach your babies how to fall asleep independently that they are put down to sleep whilst they are still awake and fall asleep in their crib. This cannot be started too soon and by age 6-8 weeks they will be able to achieve this without fussing. It is a skill they must learn and as they develop, along with the comforting routine, they will be able to fall back to sleep without help which is the difference between sleeping through the night and waking frequently.
Jodie Mindell – Sleep Disorder Centre at Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia is the author of ‘Sleeping Through The Night’ and she says that it is not a good idea to nurse/rock your babies to sleep even at a young age. She says that even at this young age, parents can affect their babies. They learn their sleep habits early so rocking them to sleep every night for 8 weeks will set a pattern. Now this is something that perhaps a singleton parent can do but not so practical for a parent with twins or triplets.
I started, in my naivety, by putting my triplets in their triple buggy and rocking them back and forward over the doorway to sleep. But following advice, we reverted to the routine above and I would only occasionally rock them in their buggy if, I was by myself for the bedtime, or they were unwell with a cold or cough.
There comes a point when enough is enough and sleep training is what is needed. Your babies aren’t being naughty, they simply have not learned to fall asleep independently. It may be that they go to sleep for several hours in the first instance, but during the night, they wake, for whatever reason as we have previously discussed, but then can’t get back to sleep again. If you have been rocking them to sleep or they dummy suck to drop off to sleep, they need these interventions to be able to go back to sleep during the night. This is a problem, because it means you getting up from sleep to resettle them, which can take time and happen several times a night. Helping your baby sleep through the night, with sleep training will help you and your family!
Some learn this naturally but others don’t and need help to learn this. My triplets were not able to settle themselves, they didnt naturally pick it up so we had to use a form of sleep training, to teach them the skill.
A straightforward plan is to stick to the bedtime routine that you have been working on, settle them when drowsy but still awake. If they wake and you hear, give them chance to settle themselves first, before rushing in at the first slight sound. I thought if I rushed in before they really woke, I could settle them quicker, but it didnt work that way, they took as long to resettle again.
If this is not successful, then a more involved method of sleep training will be necessary. My triplets needed a more involved method of sleep training. You don’t have to follow any technique but a question to ask yourself ‘ Am I getting enough sleep to look after my babies through the day, without feeling tearful, resentful, angry and sleep deprived?’
No single technique suits everyone.
There are different approaches to Sleep Training and it depends which one you are more comfortable doing.
The one SINGLE rule here though is CONSISTENCY ! You must live with the choice of sleep training you choose and stick to it !
When you start make sure your babies are not unwell, if your babies were preemies or have special needs, I would consider delaying the starting of sleep training a little longer to allow them developmentally to achieve that milestone themselves.
Controlled Crying Sleep Training – this is the method I used with my triplets and it was very successful.
This is one form of sleep training, this is NOT a ‘crying it out’ technique, babies are not left to cry themselves to sleep. I simply could not have done that!
Sleep experts such as Richard Ferber recommends this form of sleep training,
- Let your babies cry for a specific length of time – a short period of time – before going in and offering comfort and reassurance.
- Follow the usual bedtime routine, baby into the cot, sleepy but awake, kiss, say ‘night night’ or ‘time for sleep’ in a soothing voice, switch lullaby music on, and leave the room
- If your babies cry, leave for a short time, such as 2 minutes as a starting point.
- Go back into the room, comfort, pat, stroke, reassure, no lights, but keep it short and quiet. Don’t talk and avoid eye contact. This will help your babies understand that night time routine is very different from daytime and it is time to sleep.
- Extend the time between visits, giving your babies time to settle themselves.
- If you are still not getting anywhere after several nights of trying this technique, leave it for a few weeks and then try again.
This does not harm your babies, studies have shown that babies crying for a short time does not do any harm.
No Tears/No Cry Method
This differs from the previous technique, because instead of leaving your baby for a short time crying, you go straight in to comfort your babies.
- Co sleep, rock, feed and cuddle your babies to sleep,
- Gradually retreat and put down when drowsy but still awake
- Stay by the cot until baby is asleep, patting and stroking.
- Over the course of a few nights, move further away from your babies cots, until your babies fall asleep without you in the room.
Practical Tips for Sleep Training
Set The Stage – A good evening/bedtime routine. Stick to the routine, the predictability of the routine is reassuring not only for your babies but for you too. Knowing that by following your routine you are helping your babies to learn day and night and in turn life will return to a more normal pace.
Plan Sleep Training When You Haven’t a Lot On – You may not get much sleep in the first few days but you must stick to your consistent approach. It will work, so don’t sway from your plan.
Once You Start, Stick To It ! – Be prepared for it being tough in the beginning. I decided I could manage 2 minutes of crying before I would have to go back in, so decided what you can bear and stick to that, if you are doing the controlled crying. You have to be determined. I went in 20 times in the first hour but by day 3 it was down to 14 times. Over the rest of the week it slowly reduced, but it wasn’t so much the number of times I had to go back in when they were first settled it was the improvement of their sleeping through the night!
Prepare For Difficult Nights – You will have difficult nights. Don’t stress them. Keep going and just put it down to one of those things. Lots of legitimate reasons for them to be fractious, nothing you have done, nothing to do with the sleep training.
Adapt To Family Life – If you have other children, school age or preschoolers, work out a routine and sleep training that will fit wit your family. Everyone benefits from it, because your other children wont be woken with crying babies in the night.
Get Outdoors – Try every day to get your babies out and about, The fresh air and sunlight will help them develop a natural body clock and learn the difference between day and night making their sleep training more straightforward for you.
Expect Relapses – It is normal for relapses to happen, a developmental milestone such as walking can make more disturbed at night, teething, or if theyre unwell. But just go back to the sleep training again for a few days, until theyre soothed and settle again.
Getting your babies to sleep is a huge challenge for parents, particularly if you have two or three to cope with. The following tips I hope will help you avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into with my triplets. Some parents choose to separate their twins or triplets whilst going through the sleep training but I decided not to do this. We didnt have space for a bedroom each and the trailing about at hight trying to soothe three babies in different rooms was ridiculous so we decided to train them all together. We had a distinct improvement in sleeping after about a week of training. Try to avoid some of my mistakes though !
- Don’t set your expectations too high – Some babies do sleep 8 hours a night at 8 weeks with two naps a day. Most babies don’t, so stop expecting yours to do this and then blame yourself when they don’t achieve this. Its totally unrealistic, especially if your babies are preemies.All babies are different, and waking in the night is normal and remember that most babies up to 6 months old will wake for a feed at night but don’t worry by this stage they will be sleeping for much longer periods in one go.
- Putting babies to bed too late – When your babies are overtired, it is more difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep. They will wake earlier and be more grumpy. Stick to the bedtime routine. I was probably a bit restrictive about bedtimes, nothing….absolutely NOTHING interfered with my triplets bedtime timing and routine, I simply could not go back to sleepless nights.
- Don’t rely on motion to send your babies to sleep – I fell into this trap in the first few weeks, it worked and gave us some respite from crying, but ultimately it led to three babies unable to settle themselves without being rocked. If they’re unwell or upset then of course a soothing rock is comforting, but not as a regular thing to settle.
- Overstimulating before bedtime – A ‘wind down’ time is necessary for babies to learn that bedtime is time for sleep. Bath time will relax your babies and so follow this through with a quiet bottle, in a darkened room and quiet lullaby/ soothing music. A perfect bedtime routine over time will signal to your babies that its time for sleep !
- Skipping bedtime routine/ rushing it – Not a good idea, even if you are tired, had a long day and just want to sit down, It is worth just following through with the routine, even if you’re on autopilot, because it will settle your babies better and you will get a rest!
- Inconsistency – Its no good not sticking to your routines, through the day as well. Once they’re older and sleeping well, you are better rested, then is the time to be a little more relaxed, but until they are following a good routine and you are reaping the rewards of your consistent routine, stick to your plan.
- Sleep Disturbances – Disturbances during the night can upset any sleep training, things that you cannot control, like teething pain, or your babies reaching a milestone. Don’t worry about it, if you can soothe and help what ever the reason for the disturbance is, then go back to the sleep training.
Set a plan, one that fits with your family situation, set a date and stick to it. Within a week of my starting Controlled Crying with my triplets, we were getting a lot more sleep at night. It wasn’t immediately 12 hours a night, but the difference between before the training and after the training, made it so worth it ! We started getting stretches of 4-5 hours which after the weeks of 2-3 hours was a huge relief ! Please ask me any questions, any issues or worries you have, I would be delighted to help you through this, any way I can.
I have discovered this little friend who might help your toddlers stay in bed and help them sleep through the night. It is really aimed at 16-18 month olds and upwards. If you would like to have a look at it and see if it would help your toddler click on the name above and it will take you to my review of it within my website.